Even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was still important to the New Jersey Devils.
Billed as a great team against a terrible one, the Devils flipped the script and outplayed Pittsburgh for a 2-0 shutout win.
Martin Brodeur was instrumental in the win, stopping 23 shots for his 114th career shutout, extending the NHL record. Brodeur, however, credited his defense for their play tonight.
"We had an unbelievable effort defensively," Brodeur told Rich Chere of The Star Ledger. "I thought the energy we had was the big difference in how they couldn't generate anything. The guys were working really hard defensively."
The win, New Jersey's fourth in its last five games, renewed confidence to a once downtrodden locker room.
"The guys are starting to have a little more confidence," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "They start to work harder. Now, they believe they can play."
Brian Rolston put the Devils ahead, 1-0, only 1:22 into the first period. Patrik Elias carried the puck over the Penguins blue line and dropped a pass to Rolston. The Devils left-winger fired a shot past Brent Johnson for his fourth goal of the season.
Rookie Nick Palmieri extended the lead to 2-0 at 9:51 of the opening period. Ex-Devil Paul Martin tried to send a pass to defensive partner Zybnek Michalek, but Palmieri picked off the attempt. He skated to the front of the net and beat Johnson with a backhanded shot for his third goal of the season.
"I heard the call, so I anticipated the play and I was fortunate to get it," Palmieri told Gulitti. "It was kind of one of those gambling plays where if (Martin) keeps the puck and just keeps skating with it I'm not looking too smart. So, it worked out for the best."
That would be all the offense Brodeur needed.
The Devils' goalie faced his stiffest challenge in the third period. He turned aside Jordan Staal's potential power play goal, then stoned both Chris Connor and Aaron Asham in the final six minutes of play.
New Jersey gained points in five consecutive games for the first time since December 12 to December 21 of 2009. They still have yet to win three straight games, but the improved play has created an improved confidence.
Where can this new attitude lead the team?
"As far as we want it to," Rolston told Gulitti. "We have to take it game by game. We can cliche you to death here, but we just keep grinding away and we're playing good hockey right now. We can breathe a little bit. That loosens up our hands maybe and we can start making plays."
Maxime Talbot received two goalie interference penalties tonight...Rolston's goal was his second in four games...Brodeur has eight career shutouts against the Penguins, ranking him second behind Bernie Parent (10) for first all-time.